he last time Brandi Carlile came through town, she was promoting 2018's "By the Way, I Forgive You," which would deservedly go on to win the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. This time out, Carlile performed fewer songs from that strong effort, which amounted to a more well-rounded live overview of her career to date. Her catalogue so fine, though, there wasn't a dud in the set.
Flanked by the guitar-playing, harmony-vocalizing twins, Phil and Tim Hanseroth (whom she referred to as her band), Carlile opened with a few foot-stomping folk tunes. She received her first standing ovation, however, for her introduction of the ballad "The Mother." When she detailed the difficulties of being a mother in a same-sex marriage, she found a fully supportive audience tonight. And this was in the usually conservative Orange County.
Before getting to her powerhouse balled "The Joke," Carlile sang a sometimes hilarious, other times sadly true unrecorded song called "Cowgirls." Its lyric lampoons fake cowboys and bro-country dudes, while all the while calling for more female representation on contemporary country radio.
Another pleasant surprise was her version of "The Wheels of Laredo," a single she helped write and produce for Tanya Tucker's upcoming comeback album. Carlile returned for a two-song encore, beginning with the piano ballad "Party of One. Then came the best and most rewarding surprise of the night - Carlile covering Led Zeppelin's "Going to California." Yes, it's a California-centric lyric for a Southern California crowd, but hearing Carlile nail vocal sections first sung by Robert Plant was truly astounding.
Carlile has one of those special voices that makes any of her performances must-see shows. By adding unexpected song surprises to her set, Carlile's show at the OC Fair transformed just another excellent concert into a truly memorable musical event.